Think You Know About Your Child’s Facebook Activity?
First, my apologies for the break I seem to have been on. I was very sick for quite some time with this nasty bug that’s been going around in addition to sinus infections and pink eye. I have, also, been helping a fledgling anti-NAMBLA group and lending my support to [EDIT) another.
In my various formats on Facebook, I have come across literally hundreds of issues that MUST be addressed by not only Facebook and society but parents – the same parents who allow their pre-teens unencumbered access to social networking sites and then wonder at the sudden behavioral changes, dropping grades, and even virus-infested computers. One such tale is below but it is by far unique.
I could make Facebook my latest pet project but really, it is far too large and in reality, even though Facebook has not done enough to keep young users safe regardless of its blogs to the contrary, the majority of the responsibility for what happens to kids on that site and others lies squarely upon the parents/caregivers.
This trend of being our kids friends and helping them “be cool” is what has turned them into the targets they truly are. Every day, the statistics of child-on-child crime, including sex crimes, increases. There is no more discipline (speaking of non-violent, of course) or lessons in self-control and dignity any more. It is a fact that kids with a healthy sense of self-respect and respect for others more easily rise above the negative influences of their peers.
Not only do parents owe it to their children to teach them these things, parents owe it to a society that is getting sick and tired of cleaning up after kids allowed to behave like animals and attack other children.
Many of these kids are even groomed by sexual predators and the sociopaths of the cyber world to attack other kids, commit crimes, and hurt themselves. This is one of the very reasons Chan sites are even up at this point. If your child is a member of Chan, expect them to be in trouble with the law if they haven’t been already. Chan isn’t the only group, however, like this. They exist all over the net and consist of adults, adults pretending to be kids, and kids doing everything they are being told to do because they were never taught otherwise. It is the cyber version of the adult getting his minor children to shoplift for him because they won’t spend time in prison like he would if he were caught.
So it is YOUR responsibility as a parent to raise your children to rise above these kinds of things. Not Facebook or MySpace etc… and not society. You can either be the cool parent or you can actually love your child. The two do NOT go hand in hand, unless you are fortunate enough that your child understands your rules are because you do love him/her and thinks THAT is cool. Kudos if that’s the case but it isn’t your mission to be your child’s best friend. Even still, what kind of best friend allows their buddy to hurt themselves and others?
The following story was first brought to my attention by an organization called C.H.R.I.S. (Children Have Rights In Society) via their Facebook group. (*EDIT* I no longer support this group due to continued misinformation posted by the site owners and admins, and their vehement refusal to correct misleading articles.) I don’t normally post an entire story here, just the link and segments. However, I know people don’t always click on links because they are too busy, “will get to it later”, or various other reasons. This is a story that must be read, so I am posting it here with the link if you’d like to contribute to the story with questions or comments for the author.
Please take heed. This is a loving parent!
The horrifying week I spent spying on my 11-year-old daughter’s Facebook page
Last updated at 3:56 PM on 24th June 2010
A couple of weeks ago my 11-year-old daughter, Clare, fell out with her best friend after they failed to agree how they should spend an afternoon.
In the space of a week, this minor spat escalated into a small war involving a couple of dozen other children.
Running parallel to this drama, Clare was verbally abused by a 16-year-old girl who wasn’t happy about the way my daughter had spoken to her younger sister.
Clare was also threatened with a slap from another girl who didn’t know her but decided to get involved anyway.
On top of all of this Clare – just 11, remember – was approached by an 18-year-old boy she didn’t know who asked her to be his friend.
Most days, she was also bombarded with chain letters that threatened all manner of doom and heartache if she didn’t forward them on immediately to her friends.
All of the above happened via her Facebook account. I know every insalubrious detail only because one afternoon she accessed Facebook via my mobile phone and then forgot to log off – inadvertently allowing me to remain logged on as her and giving me admittance to her online life. For a week, I was able to eavesdrop on her and observe her conduct.
Did I feel guilty for spying on her? To begin with, I admit I had a few misgivings and felt I had let Clare down by not trusting her. But the terrifying things I learned meant that horror and dismay very quickly replaced those feelings.
My time online gave me an unedited insight into what it’s really like to be a modern, middle-class youngster, living, as so many do, with one foot in the real world and the other in cyberspace. Because it’s not as if my daughter and her friends are ‘tough’ kids.
We live in an affluent village in the Home Counties. My daughter is in her first year at a high-achieving comprehensive school with an outstanding Ofsted rating.
She rides horses, loves dancing and is in the top set in her school year. Clare has had a Facebook account for only a couple of months, having spent the past year haranguing her father and me to let her set one up.
Children are supposed to be 13 to sign up, but the age restriction isn’t policed and it’s easy to give a false date of birth.
For weeks, Clare reeled off the ever growing list of children she knew who had been allowed to have a Facebook page. She cried, stamped her feet and told us we were ruining her life.
‘You’re turning me into a geek,’ she ranted. ‘I’m going to be the only secondary school kid left in the world who’s not on it.’
Her father and I have heard enough stories of children being bullied on the website, or being approached by dodgy characters pretending to be someone they’re not, to keep her off it for as long as possible.
Indeed, this Tuesday a 15-year-old boy was locked up for at least 14 years after he stabbed an 18-year-old art student to death after the older teenager insulted him on F
But, a couple of months ago, we grudgingly conceded that, whatever our concerns, we didn’t have the power to turn back the clock.
Like it or not, modern youngsters regard face-to-face communication as old fashioned and it no longer seemed fair to keep our child – a sensible girl we felt sure we could trust – out of the loop.
We insisted on a few ground rules. Clare agreed that she would never accept requests from strangers to become her Facebook friend (which would give them wider access to her personal details). She also promised that if anyone attempted to bully her she would come straight to us.
As an additional safeguard, I made sure her privacy settings for the website didn’t leave her vulnerable.
At first, it seemed a sensible compromise. Once in a while I’d peer over her shoulder as she uploaded photographs on to her page or erupted into giggles over a daft joke being shared among her friends. everything seemed in order.
I began to wonder what all the fuss had been about and left her to it. In fact, had curiosity not got the better of me when I first realised I had an opportunity to sneak a look at Clare’s account, I might still be thinking the same.
Even then, had the first message I saw not set my heart racing with worry and indignation, I very much doubt I would have gone on to snoop on my daughter as fervently as I did.
‘You think you’re great,’ the message read, ‘but you’re just a silly little slut who wears her skirt up her a**e. Stay away from my sister or you’ll have me to deal with.’
I couldn’t believe what I was reading – not least because the author was a 16-year-old girl I knew, who should have known better than to use such threats.
I didn’t doubt that Clare probably had been less than pleasant towards this girl’s sister – they’ve been vile to one another time and again over the years, as children often are.
But for a girl of 16 to be so aggressive seemed entirely inappropriate. Every instinct urged me to reply, making it clear that it was an adult who was responding, rather than the child this little madam was trying to intimidate.
But first, I clicked on to Clare’s homepage. Almost immediately, some of my indignation was replaced with dismay as I read what my own child had posted in response to the threatening girl and her sister.
‘Bitches,’ she’d replied after reading the menacing message. It was clear that she was not an innocent victim in this spat. What’s worse was that beneath it were a dozen responses from other kids, all of whom could witness this online spat via their own Facebook accounts – and all hungry for more.
Thankfully, Clare hadn’t risen to the bait, but that probably had more to do with the fact that her allotted time of an hour a day on the computer would have run out rather than her self-restraint.
But this hadn’t stopped kids with loyalties to the two sisters sticking their oars in, with one recommending another give Clare ‘a slap’. Part of me wanted to confront my daughter about her behaviour there and then – and, of course, check how she was coping with being embroiled in such a nasty row.
Instead, I thought of the bigger picture and played dumb, vowing instead to eavesdrop quietly some more on Clare’s Facebook dealings, in case there were other horrors that I didn’t know about.
I quickly learned that Clare not only accepts friendship requests from kids much older than herself whom she doesn’t even know – she also approaches strangers so that she can be seen to have as many Facebook friends as possible
If her mates are anything to go by, an 11-year-old with 500 Facebook friends is nothing unusual – in the space of two months Clare had collected almost 400. How can these children possibly know so many people well enough to trust them with their personal thoughts?
‘You don’t know me, but I think you’re friends with my friend’s brother,’ she said to one 14-year-old boy by way of introduction one night.
He could have been a fat, middle-aged bloke pretending to be a good-looking teenager for all she knew, and now he could chat to my little girl any time he liked.
How could she be so stupid? Meanwhile, the language she and her friends used on the site was colourful, to say the least.
I’m not naive, but to see these expletives in black and white next to the pictures of the nice boys and girls I’ve watched grow up really made me squirm.
Especially the moment I read my daughter describe me as a ‘f***ing cow’ to one of her friends after I grounded her for an unrelated misdemeanour. ‘I hate her,’ she wrote of me, which passed like a knife through my heart – a heart which sank every time I saw another chain letter arrive in her inbox, threatening imminent death and doom if she didn’t pass it on.
‘Do you think bad things do happen if you don’t forward them?’ one of her friends asked one evening, after they received another chain letter. ‘I don’t think we should risk it,’ was Clare’s hurried response.
All this came on top of the row she’d had with her best friend a few days earlier, which had seen each of them go off with other friends for some breathing space but had now spilled on to Facebook with startling consequences.
Both girls had posted cryptic messages hinting at the trouble between them, which had succeeded in provoking an online stampede of 20-odd children declaring their allegiance to one girl or the other.
Words of support quickly became revolting insults, calling Clare a ‘slut’ and her friend a ‘slapper’, from one camp to the other.
If there had been any hope of these girls resolving things quickly, that had now gone as their petty spat had become entertainment for the masses. Meanwhile, from reading the online posts made by her friends, it was clear Clare was far from the only child at her school embroiled in conflict.
Aggressive messages popped up on a rolling ‘news feed’ – ‘some sh***y people need to start telling the truth’ was one; ‘that bitch is gonna get a slap’ read another.
It was like watching some stomach-churning episode of a TV reality show. Other kids joined in, having a go at children who weren’t named but whom they all they seemed to know – ‘the slut’s not worth it’ and ‘I’d like to stamp on her head’.
Reading all of this, I thought back to my own childhood. Yes, there were plenty of bust-ups and bullying in the playground in my day. But back then it was confined to smaller groups, while these online spats quickly mushroomed as they fed into the children’s pack mentality.
More importantly, when I was a girl, the rows also stopped at the end of the school day – the problem with Facebook is that it follows children home. It intrudes into ‘free time’ and continues to preoccupy them even at weekends.
Meanwhile, Clare continued to get insults via the site’s chat facility. She gave back as good as she got – again making me wince with the language she used. But for all her bravado, I’d noticed that she was becoming withdrawn. If all this was upsetting Clare half as much as it was me, then it had to end.
So I sought Clare out and handed her my phone so she could see what I’d been privy to for the past few days. This wasn’t the time for recriminations I told her, as she blanched before me. But, clearly, something had to give.
My first instinct, of course, was to take her off the site altogether – however much Clare insisted my surreptitious observations were unfortunate, but not typical of her life online. I also knew that eventually she would find her way back on to Facebook.
So I made Clare a deal. Between us, we would go through every so-called friend on her account and delete anyone she didn’t know in person. Anyone who had posted abuse would be blocked.
Even as we did just that, up popped two messages from children asking Clare to be their friend – I say ‘children’, but one was an 18-year-old boy who had left her school two years ago. She’s never met him in her life.
Clare quickly assured me she would never have accepted his request, but it made me deeply uneasy to think she spends time in a world where she has to make that kind of decision at all.
Despite everything, I don’t believe that Facebook is all doom. Clare used her account to share her worries about end-of-term exams with one friend and got valuable help with her homework from another.
In the end, it also provided the medium for Clare and her best friend to make up, via the private messaging facility.
But there’s no escaping that it also has a nasty and insidious side that most parents are blissfully unaware of.
And that sometimes our own children’s behaviour leaves much to be desired. What I did was underhand but in the end it highlights the fact that the only way to know for sure how our youngsters are conducting themselves online is to sit down next to them once in a while and insist they let us take a look.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with a compromise that has allowed Clare to keep hold of her Facebook account – I now know the password and she can’t change it. And I am now one of her online friends.
This means that she can’t sneak on to the site without me knowing, and that every time she posts a comment, accepts a new friend or talks to friends or enemies alike, she knows her mother might be hovering in cyberspace, too.
I’m not naive – I know I can keep this up only for so long before Clare becomes too old for me to intrude on her privacy in this way. Eventually I will also have to let her walk alone through cyberspace.
But, at the moment, she’s not ready – and if my sojourn into Clare’s online community is anything to go by, then I’d say most children her age aren’t either.